As draft day is upon us, the Washington Commanders have an opportunity to add a high-caliber player at a position of need to their roster. There’s a lot of similarly rated talent in this year’s class, which could result in the Commanders getting impressive value at No. 11.
There are arguably many positions that Washington could afford to upgrade. There will be an opportunity to pry a wide receiver, defensive back, linebacker, or possibly even a quarterback if they choose to do so.
Given that reality, they’ll be well positioned to select the best player available between those positions, unless they’re laser-focused on addressing any one of those spots.
Setting the Scene
Although I haven’t analyzed this year’s NFL Draft quite as heavily as I did for The Capital Newsman in 2019, I’ve watched plenty of game film for this year’s class – in additional to being an avid college football watcher in the fall/early winter.
I believe the following players – let’s call them Tier 1 – will come off the board prior to Washington’s pick, in positional/alphabetical order:
If any Tier 1 players happen to be available at No. 11, the Commanders should run a card with their name on it to the podium, with no questions asked. And at a minimum, if they truly don’t think any of these players are a fit, let someone trade for them, and add an extra pick or two later in the draft.
Beyond Tier 1, things could break numerous different ways. I could see scenarios where any of the following players – Tier 2 – were also selected before No. 11:
Now let’s dig a little deeper. The top seven picks belong to the Jaguars, Lions, Texans, Jets, Giants, Panthers, and Giants again. I believe anywhere from 3-6 of those picks – and probably closer to the high end – will be offensive or defensive linemen. The clearest exceptions seem to be the Jets grabbing a defensive back (likely Gardner) at No. 4, and the Panthers possibly picking their favorite quarterback (I think it would be Pickett, if they go that route, due to their network of connections to him.
The Seahawks at No. 9 are a wild card, but there’s a strong possibly that the Falcons (No. 8) and Jets (No. 10) both pick wide receivers – any two of the three listed above.
Let’s discuss Tier 2, though. Some of them fit much more cleanly in Washington than others. Short of the Tier 1 options, it doesn’t make much sense to draft a defensive lineman here. Beyond that, every other option seems viable. So, let’s dissect them.
His ceiling is relatively low, but you’re very likely to be getting a starting caliber quarterback – even without any substantial player development. If you’re looking for football IQ and consistency, this is your guy. If you like the idea of a Mac Jones type who can thrive within a system without “being the system”, go get Pickett. Don’t worry about his hand size; Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) had substantially worse fumbling difficulties than Pickett. Don’t fret arm strength; Pickett probably has more juice in his canon than Mac Jones. If Willis’ arm is too erratic for you, turn your attention to Pickett.
If you want upside behind center, Willis is the prototype. There’s risk attached to him due to questionable pocket presence – and to an extent, mechanics. However, if you trust what “toolsy” question marks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert have developed into, Willis fits the mold better than anyone else in this quarterback class. The median outcome is somewhere in the neighborhood of Jalen Hurts. Getting him there – not to mention beyond that – will require some faith in your offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. But, if your goal is to swing for a franchise-changing player with no fear of failure, Willis is a great option.
London won’t be a game-breaker, but he should be a strong possession receiver. He’s not slow, but in an age where receivers are getting faster every year, you’d be sacrificing some upside by favoring London. However, he’s quarterback friendly with contested catch ability on the perimeter and the capacity to win from the slot. London won’t give you 40-yard gains, but he’ll keep the chains moving and likely be your best red zone weapon.
It’s just one year, but Williams boasts the best 2021 tape of any wideout in this class. If you want big plays from the inside or outside, you want Williams. If you’re relatively comfortable with your receivers entering this season, but want upside to help during the playoff push and future seasons, you want Williams. If you’re willing to overlook an ACL injury that might delay the start of his rookie season, Williams is the most likely available player to turn into Antonio Brown, minus the baggage.
Frankly, he’s somewhere in the middle of London and Williams. He’s closer to Williams’ size with some – although not as much – playmaking ability, with similar – but not equal – body control at the catch point to London. With that stated, he’ll be able to wear multiple important hats in your offense. They might be a question of what elite traits he has, but the variety in his skill set will present a safe floor as a dependable starting receiver for an extended period of time.
He didn’t win the Underwear Olympics (AKA the Scouting Combine), but he plays smart – and faster than his 40-yard dash time. He’ll be able to rush the passer more than your typical off-ball linebacker, but he’s also more than capable of standing in the middle as the MIKE. He’s not an elite cover linebacker, but he should be an upgrade over the incumbents. Above all else, he’ll command the room. It might be a slight reach, especially considering what should be available at linebacker in the second round, but if you want to emphasize toughness up the gut of the defense, Lloyd should be strongly considered. He’d also be a great addition if Washington trades down.
I’d stay away from McDuffie if you’re looking to add a high upside “CB1”. His speed is good but not great, and his arm length could limit him in certain matchups. However, if you’re looking for football IQ, instincts and the ability to mirror a receiver from anywhere on the field, McDuffie might be the best cornerback in this class. More so than Gardner ort Stingley, McDuffie can line up anywhere and more than hold his own. For that reason, he draws some comparisons to Jaire Alexander.
Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley is the baller, junkyard press corner, and raw athlete of this class. His technique is less refined than Gardner or McDuffie, and he also comes with injury risk – or at least limited tape, depending on your comfort with his medicals. But much like Willis at quarterback, he’s a “swing for the fences” type of pick, except he also comes with elite tape dating back to 2019 his true freshman season. Health limited him, and perhaps he lacked motivation given the success he had in 2019 to fall back on, but both of those things should be less problematic in the pros. He comes with some risk, but he would’ve easily been a top five pick in the 2020 or 2021 draft. He’s the Bill Belichick trademarked “post-hype sleeper”.
There’s a lot of overthinking taking place regarding Hamilton’s performance at the Combine. In reality, if you eliminate his 40 time, everything else is great – including the athletic/agility results. There’s some question of whether he’s too big to last as a free safety, when instead his size (6-foot-4 and 220 pounds) likely gives him the ability to succeed at both strong and free safety – and possibly even as a de facto MIKE in obvious passing situations. He’s a modern day hybrid in the mold of Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick. I don’t feel as strongly about him as I did about that duo from the 2018 class, but he’s far and away the best safety of this class – and that’s something the Commanders could certainly use.
Who Should the Pick Be?
Wait a bit at quarterback. It’s risky, but there are a couple other options worth holding out for on Day 2.
Linebacker isn’t the answer, either. That also feels like a Day 2 need.
My preferred wide receiver is Jameson Williams, and I favor Derek Stingley Jr among the defensive backs. I’d also be willing to settle for Garrett Wilson, Trent McDuffie or Kyle Hamilton depending on how the chips fell. If it came to it, which it almost certainly won’t, I would also favor Chris Olave (Ohio State) – a thinly framed technician similar to DeVonta Smith in last year’s class – over London.
At wideout, Washington should aim for the highest upside, especially since his route tree won’t overlap with Terry McLaurin’s – although neither of them should be pigeonholed into one singular role, but complementary skill sets are helpful. Williams also becomes insurance in case McLaurin gets traded or reaches free agency, and his addition also slides Curtis Samuel back to his jack-of-all-trades WR3 and part-time running back role.
On the other side of the ball, it seems like Washington still needs a shutdown cornerback. They’ve invested in the position to the point that they should already have one, but raise your hand if you think William Jackson III or Kendall Fuller fit that role. Move Jackson to the Z defender and Fuller to the hybrid slot/safety role that he once thrived in.
Given the choice, I’d opt for Williams, but I doubt both will be available – and it’s entirely possible that neither will be.
Well find out if Ron Rivera and the front office agree with me on Thursday night. The draft starts at 8 pm ET, with pick No. 11 likely being delivered and announced at about 9:30 pm.
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